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“Little Shop of Horrors”, currently on stage at Performance Network in Ann Arbor, is quite simply the best production of the show I have seen since the original Off-Broadway run at the Orpheum Theater in New York.
Director Carla Milarch keeps the production very true to it’s Off-Broadway roots, and infuses this production with an energy that is palpable; a creepiness factor that reminds you that this is campy horror; and an adult sense of humor that has been missing in most watered-down productions over the years (including the movie and the recent Broadway revival). But the show doesn’t stop there – the creative use of Naz Edwards as a living, breathing Audrey II brings a spirit to the show that I have not seen in others.
The cast from top to bottom is superb. Jason Richards is a fine actor in the role of Seymour, and he brings a wonderful voice to the show to boot. Courtney Myers as Audrey is an equally formidable actress, and matches him note for note. Their “Suddenly Seymour” is an emotional and uplifting musical highlight.
B.J. Love makes for an amiable Mushnik, and Aaron T. Moore is a talent trove of characters (he plays all the other parts). His rendition of “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” is one of the funniest (and dirtiest) I have seen. I loved it.
Sharon Brooks, Sharriese Hamilton, and Diviin Huff make for a wonderful trio of urchin singers, and their costumes grow increasingly outlandish with each appearance. They sound terrific together, and each is a good actress in her own right.
Which brings us back to Naz Edwards. The show delightfully veers in a unique direction from the first moment she speaks on stage. Without giving away too much, hers is an Audrey II that will knock your socks off — clever, creepy, and very fun.
The technical quality of the production itself can’t be overstated. Monika Essen’s set design and costume design is spot-on and makes use of the stage in a way it hasn’t been utilized before through changeable scenery and the unique use of a lifting wall that folds into the ceiling. Very clever, colorful, and just right. It’s all well-lit by Justin Lang who incorporates black lights and some clever use of area lighting throughout the show.
Choreographer Phil Simmons creates choreography that is instantly era-recognizable, and R. MacKenzie Lewis and his three-piece orchestra provide not only terrific backup, but Mr. Lewis has done a wonderful job with the musical aspects of the show. This cast sounds fantastic. Wise use of microphones for the entire cast is used, and it all holds together well under Ken Faulk’s expert sound design.
It all comes together beautifully on the Performance Network stage – and the show feels neither too small nor too big. In fact, it feels exactly like it did back at the Orpheum Theatre when I saw it in 1982. And that made me feel very good indeed.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 9th with tickets available at performancenetwork.org or by phone at (734) 663-0681.
Wonderful cast in WICKED tour (Toledo, Stranahan) Review April 9, 2010Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
I have now officially lost count of how many times I have seen Wicked between New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, East Lansing, and now Toledo. Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve become a Wicked junkie…I love the show from top to bottom, from song to song, from scene change to scene change.
The Wicked tour that has settled in at the Stranahan Theater in Toledo is terrific, and it’s headlined by a great cast. Natalie Daradich is a fine Glinda, Vicki Noon a terrific Elphaba. Marilyn Caskey brings a refined sense of humor to Madam Morrible, as does Don Amendolia to the role of the Wizard. Michelle London and Zach Hanna play off of each other nicely as Nessarose and Boq.
For Wicked purists, this is the B-tour; the set is slightly flattened to fit into smaller houses that don’t use as deep a stage and as bountiful a fly system. That means there is no bridge that cast members walk across, and everything looks a bit flattened set-wise. But it’s all beautifully lit, and the show works like a charm. If you’ve never seen the show before, you won’t notice anything different from the photos you see in the programs. Even those who have seen the show before might not notice the subtle set design changes.
My only complaint, as usual at the Stranahan, is the garbled sound. Wicked tours with its own extensive sound equipment. But the 2800 seat barn of a theater is difficult to fill with clear sound because of the sheer size. It won’t bother those who know the show and lyrics. If you don’t, pay close attention – some of the sound is garbled here, in particular in the choral numbers. Soloists fare better throughout.
If you don’t have your tickets already, good luck. This is an absolute Stranahan blockbuster with only scattered singles and side seating available for off-nights. If you can grab a ticket, get one. This is a highly emotionally-charged cast, and the chemistry on stage shows throughout.
(For the record it’s 9 — I’ve seen the show 9 times now….)
Miller Auditorium (Kalamazoo) announces their 2010-2011 professional musical theatre tour season March 22, 2010Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Miller Auditorium, on the campus of Western Michigan University, announced their professional musical theatre tour season for 2010-2011 this past week:
The Color Purple – Tues Sept 21, 7:30
Legally Blonde – Thurs Oct 14 7:30, Fri Oct 15 8:00
Spring Awakening – Thurs Nov 4, 7:30
Wicked – December 1-12
Blue Man Group – Tues Feb 15, and Wed Feb 16 7:30
Monty Python’s Spamalot – Tues May 10, Wed May 11 7:30
Continuing the trend Miller started a few seasons ago, they continue to present One-Offs, with the exception of Wicked which plays for two weeks.
Broadway in Detroit announces 2010-11 Season March 20, 2010Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Broadway in Detroit has announced their professional tour season for 2010-11. This is the only local professional tour season announced so far this year. I will list the other theatres as they announce their seasons in the coming months. The Detroit season is as follows:
West Side Story – Fisher Theatre – Sept 30 – Oct 17
Rock Of Ages – Fisher Theatre – Nov 9 – 21
Mary Poppins – Detroit Opera House – Dec 16 – Jan 2
In The Heights – Fisher Theatre – Feb 1 – 13
Burn the Floor – Fisher Theatre – Feb 22 – March 6
Les Miserables (25th Anniv, tour) – Fisher Theatre – March 22 – April 3
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” (Gem Theater, Detroit) is a delightful, colorful, tuneful treat (Review) February 6, 2010Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Approaching The Marvelous Wonderettes at the Gem Theatre (Fresh from New York City where it closed off-Broadway in January) is like dipping your hand into one of those Valentine’s Day bags of printed candy hearts….colorful, funny, and overall quite tasty. It’s also a bag full of sugar — and sugar is what you get in this tuneful and funny production, directed by Tony-winner Hinton Battle.
The four-girl New York City based cast is, in two words, marvelous and wonderful. Gretchen Bieber, Holly Davis, Marley DelDuchetto and Laura Hall are basically interchangeable in this all-singing all-dancing all-one-liner-joke telling musical written by Roger Bean, originally for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, with eventual mountings in Los Angeles, and then off-Broadway NYC. It’s been an audience and critics darling since. Songs from the cast album are in constant rotation on Sirius XM’s “On Broadway” channel, so it’s well known to theatre folks at this point.
The first half of the production takes place in 1958, the second half a decade later. The girls sing popular songs of the 50′s and early 60′s, tell their stories, complain about prom rituals, and eventually growing up. There isn’t much serious here to ponder (not that there isn’t a moment or two of pathos, especially in the later goings of the second act when the girls bicker about boyfriends, marriages, and possible divorces). But basically this is just fun. It’s amusement-park entertainment taken to a much more professional level. It borrows generously from twenty other musicals, movies, and even glee club.
Seriously, the show is generally critic proof, and I’m not going to even try to poke holes in its occasional lapses of logic. It’s not about that — it’s about the songs. It’s about the moves. It’s about the colors. And it’s about sending the audience home floating on a cloud of nostalgia. It’s hard to say this is a don’t miss musical. It’s also hard to say it’s not a don’t miss musical. It’s the female equivalent of “Forever Plaid”. It’s really more of a concert-ical than a mus-ical…but it’s so well performed it makes you feel warm all over on a cold Detroit night…The audience at Friday night’s performance just ate it up, and if it’s any indication, the word of mouth will keep this musical entertainment going for quite some time.
The Marvelous Wonderettes is at the Gem Theatre for an open-ended run. Tickets are available at the Gem Theatre box office (313) 963-9800 or Ticketmaster.
“The Boys in the Photograph” stirring new musical in Toronto October 4, 2009Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre, Uncategorized.
Tags: Andrew LLoyd Webber, Ben Elton, British musicals, Canadian theatre, choreography, Erica Peck, Mirvish, musical theater, professional theater, Royal Alexandra Theatre, The Boys in the Photograph, Toronto theater
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The Boys in the Photograph, the reworking of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game, opened last weekend in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. This is a stunning work of theatre not to be missed this season.
Where The Beautiful Game told the story in big-budget West End style, this is a pared-down, more intimate production. It explains the goings-on more clearly for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Call this the “Belfast West Side Story” and you have a close approximation of what to expect — a politically/religiously charged romantic story, set amongst the dreams of soccer, with tragedy thrown in. There’s plenty of pop rock score to keep it all abuzz, and a few terrific ballads thrown in as well. There’s a well-choreoraphed Soccer game; star performances from the young leads, and something to think about on the way out the door. The very fine no-name all-Canadian cast is sure to jump-start some of the careers of these young folks, and set a few hearts aflutter (straight and gay) in the audience as well.
In particular, Erica Peck wrings every note of emotion out of the ballad “If This Is What We’re Fighting For.” It’s an instant theatre classic, and hers will be the rendition people remember, the way Betty Buckley’s “Memory” has been passed down in Musical Theatre history or Jennifer Holiday’s “I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” became Dreamgirls’ iconic moment.
Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the story plays out in the late 60′s and early 70′s in Belfast Northern Ireland, amidst the religious and political turmoil of the times. It speaks of love, and the things that keep us human, and the reality of dashed dreams. There are lively anthems and rock songs; and a very gritty love story. It’s about commitment to a cause, as well as those who just try to sit back and stay out of it.
The show is more similar in style to Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind than it is to his mega-musicals like Phantom. Playwright (and novelist and screenwriter) Ben Elton also directs this production – and he knows exactly what he wants from each actor in each scene, and he knows how to make it all play out in a style that keeps it true to its British roots, while making it more accessible to North American audiences. You don’t need to know much about the violence in Belfast before going in, and creative use of video and newsreels explains everything you need to know in between. But a few minutes into the show, you will feel as if you are in an intimate theatre in London, not one in modern day Toronto.
The Royal Alexandra Theatre itself is a jewel — now 102 years old, most of us will remember it as the longtime home of Mamma Mia! in Toronto.
On a final note, some curious changes were made between this production as The Beautiful Game as I saw it in London and The Boys in The Photograph in Toronto, including some musical changes and the dropping of at least one song that had become a standard. I am looking forward to the new cast recording of this production, because of the significant differences in the score. But the final product is a stirring, emotional, and lovely work of musical theatre. And its rare that modern musicals have a heart as big as this one. Very Highly Recommended.
The Boys in The Photograph continues at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until November 1st (unless it is extended, which it very well could be by the time you read this). Go to http://www.Mirvish.com to buy tickets.
Goodbye, Friend April 13, 2009Posted by ronannarbor in Pets, Uncategorized.
Rest in Peace, Gabe…Aug 31, 1998 – April 13, 2009
Photo taken October 31st, one day after his liver cancer diagnosis and first brush with death. He lived 167 days beyond that, with two other close calls. His energy and heart gave out this morning. I will miss my friend, but I know he’s off chasing squirrels in dog heaven somewhere.
Snowy weekends with Under-rated movies on DVD February 23, 2009Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Bad weather weekends are always great for Netflix and watching bad movies on tv….and this weekend brought a couple films that are a lot better than they should be….
First – ABC Family ran Grease 2 all weekend….and this has always been one of my guilty pleasures…by the time “A Girl For All Seasons” rolls around, I’m hooked every time…and every viewing makes me appreciate some of the subtler things that Patricia Birch did with the direction and choreography. Compare this to other schlock that came out about the same time (1982) and this one totally bristles with some movie-making gusto. And my all-time favorite actor, Peter Frechette is hilarious (Louis)– he’s in character every second he’s on screen, and it proceeds his subsequent intense performances on stage and tv and regular guest appearances on ThirtySomething. And it’s one of the few movies in which the very out Frechette plays straight, rather than his normal gay roles.
And the “pool of enchantment” kills me every time.
Patricia Birch infuses the entire production with all the early-80′s Broadway musical theatre talent she can stuff into the film. Watching the chorus numbers is like watching a who’s who of Broadway-gypsy performers of the early 80′s, before AIDS started to make its deadly journey through New York and Los Angeles alike.
When you compare Grease 2 to the absolutely awful “High School Musical” trilogy, you really come to realize what good film-making this is. HSM pales by comparison. This one is gracefully aging in a good way that deserves to be seen. As the famous quotation goes, this is the “best sequel to a Stockard Channing movie starring Adrian Zmed ever made.”
I missed GhostTown in the theatres this past year, but watched it twice from Netflix this weekend. It’s charming and sweet, and it has a big heart. Ricky Gervais is wonderful here, but so is Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear. This is another movie stuffed full of Broadway musical theatre performers circa 2007…look for Brian D’Arcy James as “Irish Boy”…Highly recommended and I am not sure how I missed this in the movie theatres.
Dan in Real Life is another underrated film from 2007….I had seen it before, but decided to watch it again after a friend mentioned it the other day. Steve Carell turns in his most nuanced performance here, and it’s a terrific and under-rated little romance. I like the way they get the family patter right in this film. Listen to all the stuff in the background, and the way the people talk to each other. Families really DO sound like this.
And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today…